Straight out of college Michael Gendler took on a role as a software engineer. He grew up shy and admitted that as he started working, that never changed. Once he began presenting to groups of people and gaining opportunities for leadership roles, his shyness turned into anxiety—particularly speaking anxiety. Over time the anxiety built up until he finally drafted a letter of resignation, thinking, “I am done with this.”
Fortunately before sending that letter, Michael received advice from his father, who urged Michael to find the root of the problem. He began his journey to master public speaking and after some time, discovered he actually might enjoy it—the on-the-spot rush, the quick navigating in the moment. He dove deeper, studying psychology and improv, ultimately thinking of how many others struggled with the same deep anxiety he originally felt.
This experience led Michael to co-found Ultraspeaking, where he’s now on a mission to teach people to think clearly, feel confident, and love public speaking. After turning a fear into a passion at work, Michael’s a firm believer that encouraging employees to find and use their gifts in the workplace can benefit their happiness, well-being, and the company overall.
As leaders look to keep their teams happy in the age of remote work, we asked Michael how employees can lean into their unique skill sets at work—and why encouraging this can be a competitive advantage for businesses today.
What’s a “gift” and why does it matter?
Every individual on your team has a unique x factor. They can do something better than anybody else—and it’s when they’re operating in their zone of genius. Michael says, "When you work out of your gift, there’s a sense of effortlessness. There’s a sense of, ‘it looks like work to others, but it’s play for you.’"
He gave an example: "If you love graphic design, what’s something that you can pitch in to help your team with using this skill? It doesn’t have to be: ‘how can my graphic design skills impact the future and direction of this company? It’s a thought like, ‘What if I helped by creating a new design for my team’s newsletter?’"
According to Michael, a good question every employee should ask is, “How can I spend more time on my gift—more time in a sense of effortlessness?”
And why should you care about using your gift in the workplace? Michael notes, "When you feel amazing and valued while at work, it inspires you to do more amazing, valuable work. And when that happens, everybody benefits." Imagine a workplace where everyone’s zone of genius and gifts were being used? What would your team’s performance look like?
Why should leaders encourage their teams to share their skills in the workplace?
Most employees don’t want to just follow directions and get paid, Michael says. Often, people find more fulfillment when they’re given freedom to create and suggest improvements to the company’s plans.
Giving employees this sort of freedom to be creative and take risks means having a considerable amount of trust. "You basically say, ‘Do what you think might be best for the company.’ You stop being a direction-giver and start trusting your employees to help lead. When people have a sense of ownership that comes from their zone of genius, all of a sudden, they feel a sense of joint mission with the company. Even in a very, very small way," Michael says.
There are plenty of benefits for team leaders that allow people the freedom to bring their full selves to work:
Improvement of employee engagement and retention
Employees will gain a sense of purpose and mission inside the company
Employees will feel like they are contributing something unique
You’re being inclusive of their culture, preferences, and ideas
One of the jobs of a team leader is to help employees be successful in their roles—it’s bridging the gap between the employee’s job description and their unique gift. Finding a way to utilize them both is not squeezing more out of your employee; you’re allowing them to flourish. You will get to see them do things for your team that you didn’t even think of, and that can significantly benefit the team.
How to harness your gift at work
The key is for leaders to encourage their employees to think this way: “How can I align my interests and skill set to what the company currently needs? Where is there overlap between what I personally love and what will drive the business forward?”
Start small and aim to help
“I’m suggesting to start small and just make time to do the things you like doing. And hopefully, do it in a way that can benefit a coworker in a very simple way," says Michael. This is exactly what Michael did once he started learning public speaking skills—he taught his close coworkers.
Find people who see value in your gift
There is nothing wrong with seeking validation from others. Michael notes, “Once I shared my gift to others and got a little bit of validation and interest, then I wanted to do something for those groups of people."
"In the breakroom or at lunch, I started talking to people about public speaking. I learned that people find it scary, were curious about it, and wanted to improve at it. Getting feedback on the thing that you are interested in is important," he notes. People’s responses will act as cues to know if your gift can provide value to them.
Michael notes, "It’s about being creative and finding little ways in your workday to do something you enjoy and have others appreciate the value of it." Plus, sharing your true self in this way can have a cyclical effect. “Sharing your gifts could inspire others to share and tap into their own," says Michael.
Work happier by letting unique gifts shine
At Front, we think a lot about what it means to "work happier," so we couldn’t help asking Michael how he thinks using your gifts at work relates to it. According to Michael, it’s tightly connected, and working happier is more of a mindset on your career journey: "I think it’s a north star, not a destination," he says. "Working in a role where your unique skills are leveraged and you’re contributing to the business’ success helps you get on that path."
Written by Jonny Parker
Originally Published: 29 April 2021